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Me diving

Friday, September 18, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me

Friday we took the day off to go diving on Phil's boat with the rest of Team Kitty, to (belatedly) celebrate my birthday. My birthday was actually on Thursday, but since Rob was out of town (super lame), most of the festivities were postponed (although I did get a sympathy dinner from Matt and Ted on my actual birthday). Since it was my birthday dive, I was in charge of all aspects of planning. No bullying me into a 15/55 dive! So I planned a multi-level 18/45 dive, with segments at 190', 160' and 130'. Plan A was to go check out the deeper areas around Dos Gatos (south of Mount Chamberlain). We have been to at least 5 of the 10+ structures in this area, but none deeper than about 170. But heading roughly south-southwest from the structures we have been to (with the "two kitties" at the north-northeast), the pinnacles just get deeper, finally ending in a pinnacle going from about 160 feet to 210 feet. Armed with a scooter and 18/45, this is the perfect site to hop across the pinnacles and do a multi-level dive, with at least a couple of pinnacles topping around 160, a few topping around 130, and a few topping around 100. So this was plan A. Plan B (which was actually my original plan, but after a kick-ass dive at MC, I rethought that and decided to switch) was to go to the deeper area of Outer Outer Pinnacles and then do a scooter run towards the shallower area. Conveniently, this dive allowed for the same 190/160/130 dive plan. There is a big pinnacle south-southwest of Canyonlands that I have had my eye on for a while, which goes from about 120' to 190'. So that would be our target anchorage. The nice thing about this sort of multi-level dive is that we could check out the deeper critters butend up with a nearly 1:1 deco ratio.

I glanced at the swell forecast a couple of times during the week, but didn't pay much attention to it. As we drove past Monastery, the conditions looked sort of average to me. But apparently we hit it on a small set. When we pulled into Lobos, Phil and Kevin were standing around by Kevin's truck. Rob hopped out of the car and started loading gear into the boat, and Kevin asked "so does this mean we're going?" "Why wouldn't we go?" ... then Kevin told us that it was pretty big. We were not deterred, and said we'd go see what we could do. And I quickly chose Deep E3 to E3 as "plan C". Once we got the boat in the water and were in the cove, I saw some really big waves rolling into Granite Point. I guess that's what Kevin was talking about. We headed out of the cove, with the original plan to be to try to peak around the point and see if we could make a run for Yankee Point. For whatever reason, we never really veered left and just started to head toward OOP. Rob drove the whole way, which says something about the conditions -- not really that bad. The swell was big but the wind was small. So not choppy at all, just big gentle rollers. Definitely a big ocean, small me(/boat) day, but not at all barf-inducing. We go to the vicinity of OOP and found our pinnacle forthwith. Looking down the anchor line we could see we would in for some good viz. And not too too many sea nettles (but enough to make a nice scene looking down the anchor line).

We got geared up and flopped into the water, to find at most moderate current. I do remember having to kick a little to get myself back to the boat, but nothing crazy. Since I was in charge of all aspects of the dive, that also meant that I got to lead. We headed down the line, and unfortunately the viz got a little worse as we got down. It was just a bit stirred up as we got deeper. Viz was still quite good, and it was a nice bright blue, but it just wasn't quite as clean as the water in the top 80 feet or so. We hit the pinnacle top right around 120', as expected. From there we headed down the northeast side. Part of the reason I am attracted to OOP is the vase sponges we have seen there in the past. It was the first site where we ever saw them, and we pretty consistently would happen upon them on our dives, but always at the very deep end of T1 dive limits. That's part of why I wouldn't to check out the deeper areas, in hopes that they would be more prevalent. We found a couple of them almost immediately, but they were pretty small. As I scootered past them, I circled each one with my light. This quickly became tedious, as they were all over the place. It was awesome. Near the eastern tip of the pinnacle, there are some rubbly pinnaclets, making for some nice channels to scooter through. We came around the eastern tip and soon found a little ridge running south of the pinnacle, across another sand channel. It was on this ridge that we found our first decent-sized (and photo-worthy) vase sponges. There was also a little school of blue rockfish. Rob took some vase sponge pictures, which I inserted myself into :P We eventually continued on around the pinnacle, and came around the west side, where there was a wider channel with a bigger "little pinnacle" across it.

Just as we hit the northwest corner of the pinnacle, I signalled that we would now head off into the abyss to find shallower structures. We skipped across the tops of a few ridges until I found a cool narrow channel running off to the ridge, which I veered into. At the end, there were vase sponges. First I saw this crazy looking one with 5 or 6 tubes pointing in all directions -- like a medusa sponge :) Then I started to notice that there were vase sponges all around us. At the end of the channel, each side opened up into what was almost like a little room, with walls all around us, chock full of vase sponges. It was definitely the coolest spot on the dive. The problem with OOP is that the terrain is all so indistinct that I can imagine doing dozens more dives there and never finding this precise spot again. While I poked around all of the vase sponges, Kevin posed in the channel for some shots behind one of the sponges. Unfortunately it was really time to head shallower, so after a few last shots, we were off again, in search of a 130' spot. We eventually came to some ridge tops in that depth range, which were adorned with elephant sponges. We played around there briefly and then decided to try for some even shallower stuff. We eventually found a pinnacle coming up to 110' or so, and finished up the dive there.

When it was time to start our ascent, I handed over the captainship to Kevin, and he decided to try to scooter for shallower pinnacles for our deep stops. After about a minute and a half, we hadn't found anything, and I was just thinking that we were getting further from the boat without a bag (in fairly big swell), so I suggested we give up and put up the bag there. So we drifted from there. It seemed like forever until we heard the boat, but in fact I heard it at about the 60' spot. I heard it briefly, told Rob that I could hear it, and then he questioned me, and I could no longer hear it. I was almost convinced that I had imagined it, but I really didn't think so. As it turns out, Phil motored over to the bag and just drifted with us from there, never moving the boat again. The sea nettles were not too thick on the deco, which was nice. There was also the usual variety of unnamed jellies keeping us entertained. When we finally got to the surface, Phil was right there. I was sort of astonished to report that I wasn't very cold, didn't have to pee, and wasn't starving. It was very unusual :) Despite that fact that I generally felt pretty good, I still made a completely pathetic and embarrassing attempt to get back into the boat. Well, we can't have everything. Phil let Rob drive the boat all the way back to Lobos, and he got a little lesson in winter boat driving (lesson 1: how not to bottom out on the big waves).

We met at 9 instead of the usual 8 (since it was my birthday dive after all) so we didn't manage to make it to Siamese Bay in time for lunch :( So we headed over to Wild Plum as plan B. I have only been there once before and I got a sandwich that I really liked. I got the same sandwich, which was a bit sub-par. Maybe I was just remembering it to be better than it actually was :) After lunch, we headed over to Cynthia's for some champagne and cake (white chocolate and raspberry, mmm). As is typical (and as Kevin predicted when we were making plans for the afternoon), Rob and Kevin both fell asleep, and I took a shower. Cynthia and I stopped by Bamboo Reef, and by the time we got back the boys had completed their naps. Rob, Kevin and I headed over to Taste of Monterey to kill some time before dinner, and then Rob and I headed to Chart House for dinner. Everything was very tasty, especially the key lime pie (one of the kitty's favorite desserts).

All of the day's pictures are here.

The closing ceremonies of my birthday celebration took place on Saturday, with the usual dive crew, at Krungthai in San Jose. Thanks to Matt, Ted, Kevin, Rob, Phil, Cynthia, Don, Elissa, and Leah for a great birthday weekend!

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